South Korea and the United States on Wednesday kicked off their joint springtime war game, with senior defense and security officials of the two countries confirming the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korean soil.
Combined forces of the two allies launched the Foal Eagle field training exercise, which is scheduled to last by the end of April, according to local media reports. It will bring USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and other U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula.
On the first day of the joint exercise, which the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has denounced as a dress rehearsal for northward invasion, top-level defense and security officials of the two allies had phone talks to reaffirm the THAAD deployment in South Korea by the end of this year.
Kim Kwan-jin, top security adviser to impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye, talked via phone with his U.S. counterpart H.R. McMaster, who was named as new U.S. national security adviser last month.
During the half-hour dialogue, Kim and McMaster agreed to deploy the U.S. missile defense system in southeast South Korea as scheduled in a bid to brace for what they said was nuclear and missile threats from the DPRK, the South Korean presidential Blue House said in a statement.
Seoul and Washington agreed in July last year to install one THAAD battery by the end of this year. The site was altered in September into a golf course in the Seongju county, North Gyeongsang province.
The golf course was possessed by Lotte Group, South Korea's fifth-largest family-controlled conglomerate, which signed a contract with the defense ministry on Tuesday to exchange the golf course for military land near Seoul.
The land swap deal would speed the remaining procedures for the THAAD deployment in South Korea, including the land provision to the U.S. military and the basic designing of the missile base.
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo also had phone conversations with his U.S. counterpart James Mattis, who confirmed the steadfast U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea during the half-hour talks.
The decision on THAAD caused strong backlashes from South Korean residents and parliament as it was abruptly announced without any public and parliamentary consensus.
China and Russia have strongly opposed the THAAD deployment in South Korea as it breaks regional balance and damages security interests of the two countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing Monday that "China expresses firm opposition and strong dissatisfaction" with the THAAD deployment in South Korea.
China will take necessary measures to safeguard its security interests, and the U.S. and South Korea will have to bear all the resulting consequences, he said.
Citing the DPRK's ballistic missile launch on Feb. 12, South Korea and the United States plan to stage the largest-ever joint springtime war game this year, according to local media reports.
The biggest-ever U.S. troops and strategic assets are forecast to be mobilized for this year's joint drills.
In 2016, about 17,000 U.S. soldiers and the nuclear-powered John C. Stennis aircraft carrier participated in the drill.
Mobilized for this year's exercise would be the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its attendant fleet that are accompanied by 24 F/A-18 fighter jets, 10 aerial tankers, 10 S-3A anti-submarine airplanes, six SH-3H anti-submarine helicopters, four EA-6B electronic warfare aircrafts and four E-2 airborne early warning aircrafts.
Other strategic assets to be brought to the drill would be F-35B stealth fighter jets that were deployed in the U.S. military in Japan in January.
Included in the strategic assets to be mobilized are B-1B strategic bomber and nuclear-capable B-52 long-range bomber, which are stationed in the Anderson air force base in Guam as well as F-22 stealth fighter jets in Japan.
The Key Resolve command post exercise between combined forces of South Korea and the U.S. is set to begin on April 13.